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Networks and Power

Networks and Power
Hello. It’s good to see you again. This week we’re talking about developing relationships to enhance influence and power, and I would like to start this conversation with a discussion of networks and power. To begin with, I’d like to tell you that for a long time this is where we started, and this is where we finished our analysis of organizations. We firmly believed that a formal organizational chart, a structure reporting relationships, gives us great insight into how organizations function. In reality, companies look nothing like this. Rather they look something like this. This is a network of advice and information flows in a typical organization that tells us how work actually gets done in a company.
So, circles or nodes are individuals, and ties are relationships but the two people come to each other for advice for information. And we had two particularly intriguing findings about this network. First of all if I use the formal organizational chart to predict what I’m seeing in the informal network, I can best explain about 50% of the variation. So more than half of organizational life is not explained by the formal organizational chart. Secondly if I go into an HR database of a typical company and get every conceivable indicator of your performance and experience. Your performance appraisal scores, your levels of experience in the field, your tenure in the organization, your rank at the company, which school you went to.
In some cases, even proxies of your I.Q. such as your grades and your test scores. Controlling for all these factors, your position in this network has statistically predictive power of how fast you get promoted, how much money you make, what areas of responsibility you are moving into. And how much informal influence and power you have. Note that I’m accentuating informal influence and power just like we did in the previous course. Something that’s not related to formal rank, formal authority. The simplest way to think about this, would be to think of two managers, who occupy the same level in organizational hierarchy have the exact same rank, but one of them is more influential because of her network.
Let’s take a look at two managers in this network, Jennifer and John. Whose network do you think gives more informal power? To make the image of it easier to read, I’ve extracted Jennifer and John’s network onto the separate slide here. So think about this for a minute, who’s network would equip you with much higher levels of informal power.
If you think its John’s network you’re on the right track. Now the first thing to know here that in both cases we’re looking at networks of exact same size. Both John and Jennifer have 10 contacts each. The difference is in how these conducts are interconnected among themselves. You can see that all of Jennifer’s contacts know one another. They come to each other for advice. But that’s not necessarily the case for John’s network. Where some of his contacts don’t know one another. And it’s the structure of John’s network that gives him substantially higher levels of informal power compared to Jennifer’s network.
One way to understand this is to think about what’s gonna happen if Jennifer and John are gone from their respective networks. We’ll call it hit by the bus test. So if Jennifer is removed from her network, what do you think’s gonna happen?
Not much will happen, probably nothing. You know her friends might miss her for a day or two, but that’s about it. The network will continue to exist and function. Well you can see that if John is removed from his network, part of that network will collapse. So I’ve blown up the image of John’s network a bit more on these separate slides so you can see this. Some of John’s contacts are not connected to one another. To us that’s a very good indication that they come from different groups, different pockets of the social structure. Sometimes we call them clusters. These groups grow to rely on John for the supply of information, advice, expertise, gossip, all the things that flow through networks.
That is a tremendous source of informal power. You have much less of it in Jennifer’s network. What you’re seeing here are networks of real senior executives, from actual companies, that were in charge of driving organization wide change initiatives. And without having any additional information, you can see that the two people on the right, these two individuals are gonna have a much harder time driving this change. They’re gonna have a much steeper hill to climb, simply because their networks don’t equip them with the necessary levels of power and influence. I’m sure many of you have developed an intuition by now that Jennifer’s network is what most of us have.
Most of us have this very dense, cliquish, closed networks where everybody talks to everybody else. We develop these networks because we’re attracted to similar others in how we form relationships. People of the same background or the same occupation or the same experience. We form these networks because we often let our very narrow job description define our networks. We form these networks because we spend much more time interacting with those who are close to us in physical space, our colleagues from the same office building. Sometimes even from the same floor in the same office building. And all these dynamics accumulate into the development of this very dense, very close, very cliquish network that can severely limit our ability to influence others.
So think of expanding your network. Identify potential for valuable relationships outside of your regular, close circle of contacts. You know I had a senior executive in one of my sessions, who recalled an experience when he was just promoted into an operations role. And he said, I quickly realized that for me to be successful in this operations role, I needed to know people on the manufacturing floor. And he’s one of the biggest introverts I know. So what he did was that he put a calendar in by for himself that every week for one hour he had to be down on the manufacturing floor, making rounds and meeting people.
His exact words to me were that I had to force myself out to be on the manufacturing floor. Over time, he developed some familiarity with these people on the manufacturing floor, some friendships and he wanted to be there. But it first was a result of very deliberate, very proactive effort. Have one lunch per week with a colleague you don’t know. One of the most successful female executives I know has a rule that every time she takes a new project, she has a new assignment, she moves to a different geography or to a different row. Twice of which she would have lunches with people she doesn’t know.
Join a professional association, sports club, volunteer for a non-profit, volunteer to organize an activity for professional conference. All these shared activities will give you exposure to a broad cross section of people. Diverse context. They are likely to be outside of your close circle of contacts and therefore enable you to diversify and expand your network.
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